Resource Progress Division Year
Learn C The Hard Way 6/55 Exercises 2011
Wikibooks: C Programming 5/33 Sections
C Development on Linux 3.3/7 Sections 2012
The C Programming Language 1.5/8 Chapters 1990 Tutorial -/16 Sections
The C Puzzle Book -/29 Problems 1998
Harvard Extension School Unix Systems Programming 0/14 Class 2012

There are countless online resources to learn the C programming langauge. Learn C The Hard Way is an incomplete web text by Zed Shaw that attempts to teach "good modern" C programming practices, which follows his popular text, Learn Python The Hard Way. Wikibooks: C Programming is a featured book consisting of thousands of edits made by members of the Wikibooks community. C Development on Linux is a relatively short series of articles introducing C development on Linux/Unix systems. It requires a basic understanding of programming. Tutorial is another online resource.

There are numerous resources for C in print, although many are somewhat outdated. The C Programming Language is the authoritative reference on ANSI C, written by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie, the latter of whom originally designed and implemented the langauge. Zed Shaw, author of Learn Python The Hard Way, discusses this text from a modern perspective in a chapter entitled, Deconstructing "K&R C". The C Puzzle Book by Alan R. Feuer is an excellent resource for extending a basic knowledge of ANSI C.

Pointers and addresses

A pointer is a variable that contains the address of a another variable. They usually lead to more compact and efficient code. To create a pointer simply declare it with a type as you would any variable. In addition, add the unary indirection or dereferencing operator * in front of the name of the pointer.

int *ip;

As with a variable, once a pointer is declared it should be initialize with some value. Instead of assigning it an integer, as with a variable, we will assign it to the address of a variable using the unary & operator.

int x = 1;
ip = &x;

In this example, the address of x (e.g. -1081367532) is assigned to ip, which means that calling ip directly would return -1081367532. If you would like to use the integer 1 later in the source code ip must be called with the indirection operator (i.e. *ip).

int y = *ip;

In this case, the variable y is initialized with the value 1. That means that the integer 1 exists twice in memory, as the value of x and of y. The compiler follows the address provided by ip, which leads it to the variable x. Then it copies the value of x and assigns it to y.

Also note, it is possible to declare a pointer, variable and function all on one line.

double *dp, *atof();

It is important to note that the function named atof is returning a pointer, which contains the address of a variable of type double.

Length of things

Java and Python store the length of objects so that it is easily retrievable. In C the length of an array needs to be calculated. By dividing the number of bytes that make up the array by the number of bytes that make up one element of the array we can determine it's length. This can be simplified using a macro as follows:

#define NELEMS(x)  (sizeof(x) / sizeof((x)[0]))

This solution does not work for arrays on the stack since sizeof() will return the number of bytes that are used to store the pointer to the array.

Linux system programming

Robert Love's Linux System Programming available in its entirety on Safari Books Online, Scribd and Google Books.

On January 24, 2012 I began the Unix Systems Programming course at the Harvard Extension School in Cambridge, MA. The course consists of a weekly two hour lecture and an additional weekly one hour section meeting.


Additional resources